Individualizing Conjugate Based Off of Training Age

Written by: Kevin Cann

The Russian System is a long-term athletic development plan that grow with the athlete as they mature throughout their training career.  It starts from the ages of 6-9 where each child will do activities such as gymnastics.  At this stage the sport specific work makes up less than 5% of all total work.  

As the athlete matures through the years the general physical preparedness (GPP) exercises are reduced and sport specific practice is increased.  This continues until the athlete is 18 years or older when the higher frequency training programs at an average intensity of 70% of 1RM becomes their main training program.  This is the program we see most often in the United States, except we give it to lifters without the same training age, or physical background.

The lifters that do well with this type of background tend to have had a strong sports background.  Many successful lifters were football players through college and beyond.  Football is a sport where the athletes utilize the weight room at younger ages.  Other successful lifters doing this style of programming may have come from a bodybuilding background which also gives them a strong base to begin this.

All your former training matters.  Lifters will do one program, switch to another and see very quick success and draw the conclusion that the latter program is better.  What they are missing is that ALL of that training mattered for them to display new levels of strength.  Even the training they may have done years ago matters.  That is how the Russian system is set up.  Each year builds upon the previous year up through mastery.

An argument made against doing a Westside program is often the lack of specificity within the program.  There is also a reason why our program looks different than Westside’s.  Louie trained elite level lifters.  I have mostly beginners and intermediates, and even the intermediates display beginner like traits in certain areas.  There is a major difference between these groups when programming a Westside type conjugate program.

For one, beginners and intermediates do not need to rotate exercises each week, but elite level lifters do.  As mastery is increased in sporting performance, general skills will become more stable.  At Westside, the general skills of those lifters are much more stable than that as a beginner or intermediate.  Due to this, we have more competition lifts programmed into our programs.

Competition lifts in our programs have always made up 20% of the total volume.  This is something that I took from my time with Sheiko and have kept it through the last 7 years.  In our blocks leading up to a competition we will also have more competition lifts programmed for our higher volume days.  This is because the beginners and intermediates’ skills are not stable enough to completely remove the lifts for long stretches.  There is a confidence/mindset piece to that as well that gets developed over time.  This is why we increase the frequency of the lifts in phase 2 and 3 so that the beginner to intermediate lifter gets more exposures.

Getting back to the rotation of exercises.  Elite lifters will exhaust the potential of an exercise in 1 week, where a beginner to intermediate lifter will get 2 to 3 weeks of progress from a given exercise.  This is why we have 3 week waves with the same max effort exercise, but with a week of submaximal volume of that exercise in between.

For example, we may use a SSB box squat with chains on week 1 for max effort.  Week 2 we might take 70% of week 1’s effort and do a 5×5.  Week 3 we beat week 1 by 5lbs.  This allows the beginner to intermediate lifter to still perform max effort and develop the inter and intramuscular coordination necessary to move big weights, but it also allows them to get better at performing these variations so that later they can get the most out of them from one exposure.  To do that though, their technique and skill needs repetitions to improve.

The max effort lifts do not need to be crazy for a beginner to intermediate level lifter.  I do not allow a lifter to use bands with me in the first 6 months of training.  There are exceptions here though.  We usually start with chains at that point and bring bands in after.  We will rotate a couple of bars, move around stance width, and grip width, and adjust the speeds a bit, but nothing overly crazy.

Lifters that have been with me going on 5 years will get a cambered bar box squat with chains and I might give a newer lifter something like that just to get them to experience something very different after a meet, but never in the heart of their training plan.  At some point we will need to get more creative with this stuff as the lifters advance in skill and training age.  Good thing Louie really laid out a gameplan there for everyone.

We are at a spot now where some lifters are moving deeper into those intermediate levels and need a different training plan than their teammates and even than what they needed before.  This requires more individualization of the program to meet those needs.  A big reason for this is the lifter all come with various backgrounds.  Remember, all training they have ever done through the years has led them to where they are today.

go into greater detail on this stuff in Strength School which can be found here.

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